The Best Man

Bride of Willow Creek

I Do, I Do, I Do

Prairie Moon

Silver Lining

A Stranger's Wife

Shotgun Wedding
by Maggie Osborne
(Ballantine, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-8041-1991-0
Maggie Osborne offers romance fans another multifaceted and absorbing story set in the American west.

Annie Malloy is pleased to be a New Modern Woman, walking “proudly in the world wrapped in a cloak of independence and self-reliance.” At 25, Annie has chosen never to marry – i.e. subjugate herself to the whims of a man – but, unwilling to go to her grave without ever experiencing physical love, Annie has been engaged in a secret affair with an outlaw, Bodie Miller.

Unfortunately, Annie is handed an abrupt dose of reality when she finds she’s pregnant. A New Modern Woman should be able to bear and raise a child on her own without shame – but she doubts that her neighbors in the small Kansas town where she lives will be as open minded. Her panic at her situation eases when Bodie offers to marry her, until he refuses to settle down and give up bank robbing. Reluctantly, she realizes that she cannot live the life of an outlaw’s wife and turns him down. At first, Bodie simply can’t believe that a woman in Annie’s condition would be silly enough to turn down any offer of marriage. Her resistance becomes a challenge, however, and one he becomes increasingly determined to overcome.

As unwed mothers have done since marriage was invented, Annie keeps putting off telling anyone about her condition, hoping that fate will miraculously intervene. Her situation is further complicated by the fact that the town’s sheriff, Jesse Harden, is beginning to express interest in her. Handsome, eligible and a good man, Jesse’s suit is encouraged by Annie’s parents, but Annie does her best to discourage him, knowing that when her condition becomes known, Jesse’s interest will put him at the head of the gossips’ list of likely paternal candidates.

Having been completely absorbed by her own feelings about the pregnancy, Annie is stunned by her parents’ reaction when she can no longer avoid telling them. Conservative, well-to-do, and proud of their status as community leaders, her parents supported, albeit reluctantly, Annie’s determination to be a New Modern Woman. As a result, they are furious and humiliated by her betrayal of their trust, and understand much more immediately the extent to which her actions will destroy all their lives. They are further enraged by her refusal to name the father.

If you’re getting the sense that it takes a while for the romance to get going – and that there might even be a doubt or two as to who the hero might turn out to be – you would be correct. Normally, this is not my favorite kind of romance, but with her usual skill and depth of characterization, Ms. Osborne captured and held my interest even as I waited for the love story to begin.

She does a wonderful job of delineating the complicated motivations and actions of all the major players and painting a picture of the upheavals caused by the scandal of Annie’s pregnancy. Annie’s character, in particular, comes vividly to life as the cold realities of her situation come head to head with her honest, if somewhat naïve, principles.

I must admit though, while I understood and sympathized with Annie’s waffling at the beginning of the book, similar behavior in the second half of the book was deeply frustrating. Once again burying her head in the sand, she keeps a vital piece of information from Jesse for reasons I found highly unconvincing. The lack of communication seemed contrived to keep the story going and, after so many chapters of absolute honesty on the part of the writer, the lapse was disappointing.

On the other hand, once the romance begins, the author does do a lovely job of building the romantic tension. The consummation is late, and tame enough for a traditional Regency, but satisfying nonetheless.

Shotgun Wedding is just the kind of complex, compelling, and multi-layered storytelling Ms. Osborne’s fans have come to expect.

-- Judi McKee

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